Registering Voters at Occupy Wall Street

Last week, I went to a Beats Antique show and it was amazing to listen to them bang on marching band drums and shout out support for ‘Occupy Wall Street.’ Everyone was dancing on this wild wave of energy.

The very next day,  Beats Antique stopped by the office that HeadCount shares with Relix Magazine to play a rooftop set (how cool is that?). So when they stopped by the office, we talked about the experience of musicians and fans moving each other to unity. Before I walked away, I blurted out “Look out for us at Occupy Wall Street! We are going to make the music community into an unstoppable force!"

The following night, I headed downtown with another HeadCount intern, and we hit the square with registration forms and clipboards.

As we approached Zuccotti park, I began to wonder “How does voter registration inspire a movement?"

I spotted some young men, surrounded by incense and playing guitars. I thought that they would totally understand HeadCount. I approached one of them and said, “Are you a musician? You should really check out HeadCount! We do voter registration at concerts.” But, this group of Nag Champa lovers ended up being self proclaimed Anarchists who didn’t believe in any form of government.

Next up, I found a circle of people who were passing the time by spitting rhymes and rolling cigarettes. -- Let’s try this again! -- But they were not impressed. The group talked about their disappointments in Obama and how corporations can buy both parties and “this is nothing new and it won’t ever change.”

I felt defeated; I was thinking that voting was the key to people gaining power, but many protesters expressed their distrust in the electoral process and frustrations about corporate money tied to the government.

As we continued though, we did find people who were excited to hear more about HeadCount and wanted to register to vote. In a couple of hours, two of us registered as many people as we would at an average concert. I met a lot of young people who had just turned 18 and were ready to find out how they could vote in local and federal elections. I met one man who came all the way from California to encourage people to take a pledge to not vote for any politician who took corporate donations.

One of the most interesting and inspiring people I met was a woman named Saima who moved to the States from Nigeria with her family last year. I asked her what she thought of Occupy Wall Street.  She said that she was experiencing true freedom by being part of the protest. She also told me that in her home country, it is dangerous and hard to vote but people are determined to get to the ballot box. She said, “I have hope. With my hope, I vote for leaders that want changes.”

I ended up taking her to the other side of Liberty Square to show her the drum circle and we danced around. I too was experiencing "true freedom," seeing everyone’s spirits high again because of the music. I realized that HeadCount could be a bridge that brings the power within Occupy Wall Street into the broader context of policy and culture in this nation. Both HeadCount and Occupy Wall Street are about engaging in conversations that create solidarity, promote action and produce innovations to change our current circumstances.

The experience was so much more than getting people to register to vote. I know that what I was really doing was starting conversations with people that I might never have met otherwise, and that is the essence of a real movement.

Since the trip to ‘Occupy Wall Street’, I can see that HeadCount is about more than just voter registration or letters to congress. Whether I'm at a concert or a protest, my work for HeadCount is about engaging people and exploring our power to dance to the beat of a new future.